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Water water every which where…..


The Sussex low weald is solid clay so with the rain we’ve had this, many of our minor roads have turned into streams, and the many watercourses that thread the area have turned from a trickle to a torrent.

This has happened so many times over the last ten years that the question is no longer “will there be floods?” but “who will flood?”

In common with many other areas people fight for car-parking space round here, so every now and then another front garden disappears under the tarmac – whilst another back garden becomes a concrete tiled patio.

Yet another garden adding to the flooding problem rather than helping reduce it.

I did some work on more sustainable ways of draining a couple of years back and went on a field trip to an M40 service stop to see what they had done to improve their drainage.

Now service stations aren’t usually my most favourite places, and the soil on site was pretty contaminated with arsenic, but even so it was inspiring. It was early in the summer but already my own garden had started to look rather parched and sad from lack of watering (tut, tut). The service stop on the other hand was absolutely radiant, with rushes and flowers everywhere – and I even saw a wood-pecker on site.

Now the basic gist is this: they had made all their car parks permeable. The water from the yards and the roofs alike all drained into a shallow ditch which threaded its way slowly round the perimeter of the site in a concrete channel, including a few ponds that fill up during storms. By delaying the water’s journey they had allowed it to partially evaporate back off and of course watered all the plants planted in the channel along the way. Apparently there is little water coming off the site even when there is a storm going on.

For an added bonus there are plenty of bugs in the permeable car parks that sit and eat petrol deposits all day rather than letting them out into our streams.

As I say, I was inspired!

When I got back home, I dug a shallow ditch that runs from my conservatory half way down the garden. I lined the top bit with pond liner to stop the water sinking into the ground right next to the house and covered it with some broken bits of tile to hide the liner. I didn’t bother line the bottom half – after all there’s no arsenic in our garden that I know of so it was fine for the water to sink in. I then planted the ditch up with moisture loving plants, and put some along the side that like a bit more drainage than I can usually give them on my solid clay. The water from the conservatory roof now goes into the ditch instead of the drains, and my plants stay happier in the summer months. I wasn’t sure how easily it would drain but it seems ok so I now drain off the main water butt into it too – again taking the pressure off our poor little streams when the water butt is full.

My favourite ditch flowers are the bog irises and the Lythrum Salicaria which certainly won’t flower without some damp conditions, but can be seen in the countryside as well wherever there is a pond or stream. The tall purple spikes kept my garden feeling nicely spritely all summer without my resorting to a watering can. I haven’t got photos from last year but this is certainly an experiment that I shall be repeating in the new house, so I’ll take a patch with me.

It’s still a bit of a work in progress: all types of plants are in the wrong part of the ditch including some perennial poppies which regenerated from bits of root I left in when I dug the ditch. Strangely the poppies appear to be happy even when they have wet feet! Also if I had had a bit more cash I would have planted more densely rather than having to rely on cuttings. But all in all I think it quite a success and one bonus is that the lawn appears to be a bit dryer in the winter which has to be a plus. It makes me feel rather smug!

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Brilliant blog, Sarah.... very well written...
informative and interesting.
I will add this immediately to GoYpedia Flood Damage.. :o)

5 Dec, 2009


I enjoyed your blog again. It sounds as if your idea works well

5 Dec, 2009


Thanks, Sarah - it was an interesting blog! :-)

5 Dec, 2009


A very interseting and well written blog, Sarah. I have had some involvement with SUDS and know how good they can be. Do you work with the EA?

5 Dec, 2009


Interesting blog on this growing problem of ' run off'. My neighbour is having a new bigger drive and he needs planning permission for any extra drive because of run off. They have decided on a Permeable Tarmac because the planners said it does not need PP.

5 Dec, 2009


very interesting blog. our near neighbour will be intersted as he needs to redo his drive.

5 Dec, 2009


Liked reading your blog very much.

6 Dec, 2009

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